Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects to economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Daniela Cruz makes this connection in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This current event was reported by the Inter Press Service News Agency on September 15, 2015 under the title “How to Fix Environmental Woes in Buenos Aires Shantytown” by Fabiana Frayssinet. The news reported here is likely real news, based on a recently published book that touches on the water problems faced in Buenos Aires, Argentina called “The Politics of Fresh Water: Access, Conflict, and Identify.”

The environmental woes described in this article relate to water resources engineering, specifically in the area of wastewater treatment and sanitation. Currently, in the shantytown called Villa Inflamable, the lack of sanitation and clean water is affecting the health of the community members that inhabit it. The source of these problems? The 64-km Matanzas-Riachuelo River that serves Buenos Aires municipalities before flowing in the Rio de Plata. Because of companies polluting the river with their petrochemical plants, oil refineries, chemical and fuel storage, and toxic waste processing plants, the river has become a “swamp surrounded by trash” and “functions as a natural sewer in the neighborhood.” According to the article, of the 5 million people living near the river basin, 35% of them have no piped water and 55% have no sewage services. Because of this, in 2008, the Supreme Court ordered the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin Authority to clean up the area by converting factories, cleaning the river and riverbanks, garbage collection and treatment, water treatment and drainage works, as well as slum redevelopment and relocation. This would include thousands of projects, all to be completed by 2024, while some projects have been started, there is still a long way to go. The article failed to include the fact that even though cleanup is occurring, companies have to acknowledge that they were part of the blame, and committing the same mistakes again will put them back to where they started.

Economic, environmental, and societal issues are important in Buenos Aires because in the end they all affect one another and can be detrimental to the city in the long run. Economically, pollution in the river is costing the government more to “fix” than to have prevented it in the first place. The aforementioned project plan will cost around 4 billion dollars, and it could have been saved if more money went into maintaining a wastewater and sanitation system. Environmentally, if garbage and sewage continue being dumped in the river, it runs the risk of killing vegetation within it, possibly destroying the aquatic ecosystem. While economic and environmental issues are important, the societal issues are far more serious because the people of the Villa are suffering health issues. The children within this Villa are paying the price with large concentrations of lead in their blood, causing learning disabilities. In the article, a community member said that both of her daughters were suffering from lead poisoning, and another said that her children in 3rd and 4th grade still don’t know how to read because of these disabilities. Lead poisoning can also stunt growth, cause hyperactivity, and impair hearing. This problem can also be seen in Flint, Michigan where the people are also suffering because of lead in their water sources and their governments slowly taking action to resolve the problem (Kennedy, 2016).

Figure 1. Industrial area surrounding the river, contributing more than 1,254 toxic substances

Figure 1. Industrial area surrounding the river, contributing more than 1,254 toxic substances

Figure 2. Street of Villa Infamable shantytown, where population is exposed to toxic waste caused by pollution.

Figure 2. Street of Villa Infamable shantytown, where population is exposed to toxic waste caused by pollution.

References

Ashcraft CM, Mayer T. The politics of fresh water: access, conflict and identity. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group; 2017.

Frayssinet, F. How to Fix Environmental Woes in Buenos Aires Shantytown. http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/how-to-fix-environmental-woes-in-buenos-aires-shantytown/; 2015.

Kennedy, M. Lead-Laced Water In Flint: A Step-By-Step Look At The Makings Of A Crisis. Npr.org; 2017, from http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/04/20/465545378/lead-laced-water-in-flint-a-step-by-step-look-at-the-makings-of-a-crisis.

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